Author's Notes:  For those who want more Made of You, you're in luck.  It's the next story in my "cycle" to be worked on.  For those who are going, "What the hell is she ON?"  I can't help it.  I love Seto/Téa, but I've noticed a decided lack of Seto/Téa fics in general and FLUFFY ANGST-FREE Seto/Téa fics in particular, so I'm writing one (plug:  READ ATLANTIS'S STUFF!!!  IT'S FANTASTIC, H-O-T SETO/TÉA GOODNESS).

That being said, I don't CARE if Seto and Téa would never get together in the anime or manga (this is why we have fanfiction).  I don't CARE if this story doesn't fit into series continuity.  Why?  Cuz I've seen maybe only ten episodes.  I'm currently working on getting the subbed and uncut version.  Till then, you may think of this little bit of sweetness as AU (especially when I start delving into the past).

Oh, there will be quite a few references to Japanese school calendars (i.e. Hina Matsuri, Bon Holidays, etc.) and the school system in general.  If you have questions please e-mail me.  I might include a nice little informative Author's Note in later chapters.  Right now, it's all pretty much peripheral.  Also, want a fic idea?  See the end of this chapter.

ATTENTION Téa HATERS:  I guess it is pointless to say I don't understand how you can hate Téa, but I just thought you'd like to know this fic (and this author) is very pro-Téa so you may wanna steer clear.  You have been warned.

A note about ages:  Téa is 17, Seto is 18, Mokuba is 13

Italics signify thoughts.

Playing Tag

By Kysra

Prologue – A Child's Fancy

Spring had come with pomp and circumstance, encouraging the tiny spouts of bright blades peeking from cold–deadened grasses and waking hidden leaves from snow oppressed branches though a blustering specter of winter was still present in the chill wind and gray skies.  Flora and fauna, returned and began to flourish under the warming weather, repopulating homes abandoned with the arrival of the first frosts and filling the previously still air with twitters of activity. 

This was Téa's favorite time of year, when the sleepy, colorless world of Winter's barren lifelessness was nudged awake and splattered by Mother Nature's infinite palette.  It was a time bursting with life and energy as vibrations of possibility moved the air in her lungs, the taste of barely-there miracles danced across her tongue, and prickles of expectation tingled just beneath her skin.  The world was born again to her senses, bringing the newness of tomorrow and a pleasantly soft atmosphere that was refreshing after the harsh season of frigid cold. 

She was charmed by the satisfying warmth in the midst of lingering chill, comforted by the subtle promise of rain though the air still contained a riddle of dryness, and revitalized under the open pale blue of the sky despite the echoes of gray lining the horizon; and she belonged to this setting, owned by the promise of new beginnings hinted in the chittering of a nesting squirrel, claimed by this glorious metaphor for her life: Spring would bring graduation, and graduation would signal a glorious end to her childhood while heralding her advent into adulthood. 

There was a slight quiver to her lips as thin lines of glimmering moisture appeared to flirt with the rim of her eyelids, but Téa smiled widely to spite the growing knot of apprehension coiling in her gut, one hand straying to the inside pocket of her uniform jacket and feeling the small rectangle of paper hidden there. 

She would be leaving this place soon for a destination painfully unfamiliar and cruelly filled with her hopes.  The smile grew wider, more genuine, as a vision of squarely cut red flannel and kimono clad dolls set against a backdrop of folded gold panel flashed behind her eyes.  Mother's loving work was done with the intention of honoring her very existence and gracing her with blessings and opportunities in future endeavors, and Téa would not dampen the celebration of her last Hina Matsuri with pessimistic thoughts or despondent attitudes. 

The sound of youthful laughter proved a jolly disturbance to her reverie, and Téa halted mid-step to watch as four children ran around each other teasing a yipping puppy with a bright red collar and toffee colored fur.  Playful banter rose from the cotton candy mouths, a cheerful harbinger to her underlying fear of life-change; and the question came to her: Was I ever that pure and carefree?  But she knew she had been, before age and the pressures that came along with it had decreased her degree of innocence (yet never extinguishing it) and increased her worries for tomorrow (though hope was ever-present).

Watching as the five friends played together in the park, she couldn't help but remember her own friendships and felt the smile freeze on her face.  She hadn't spent her childhood alone, and she dreaded a future without the people she had known all her life, the comfort of their presences always just a short walk away.  She didn't need anyone to tell her how lucky she was to have the friends she did, and despite the tomboy themed barbs and Duel Monsters obsessions, Téa knew she wouldn't have them any other way.  After all, she thought ruefully, moving to occupy a nearby bench to better view the spectacle of children and pup, I did choose them . . . for some odd reasons.

Yugi had endeared himself to her from the first, his strange violet eyes drawing her interest, his gentle manner winning her heart.  They had been five then, sitting next to each other at a devastatingly boring kindergarten orientation.  He had been quiet and shy, a blush fixed on his pudgy, pale cheeks as he tried to contain barely concealed excitement at new surroundings, people, . . . games.  Gah, he was fiddling with a puzzle that day, she suddenly recalled with no small amount of exasperation though a tender grin framed her lips.

She, on the other hand, had been talkative and free with her smiles and greetings that fateful day so many years ago.  Chattering with the other children had come naturally, but eyes of warm violet pulled her away with subtle force.  Beaming and producing a bobbing curtsy (as her dance instructor had taught her), she had planted herself next to him and proceeded to explain why she had chosen him to be her best friend.  Yugi, being Yugi, had blushed even harder and stammered in a high pitched, lisping whisper that he would be very happy to be her friend, and they had been constant companions ever since.

Things had not changed very much in their relationship from that day save the obvious physical changes wrought by nature, inevitable maturity - though Yugi somehow managed to retain that unassuming sweetness that drew me to him in kindergarten, and she was much less trusting nowadays.  He was always there if she needed an ear, ready and waiting with arms wide open and a reassuring smile upon his face.  Even Yami, with all of his rigid formality and almost arrogant brand of confidence, couldn't change that.  Yugi had been her first true friend and had become a permanent fixture in her life.  She didn't know how she would keep her supposedly eternal optimism intact without his tangible faith and support.

Faith . . . support, she had given and received them from her friends throughout her life, and as her memories passed movie-like within the theater of her mind, Téa couldn't help but contemplate her very different but equally important relationships with the three young men who had been with her through the good, the bad, and the outrageously strange (read: Duelist Kingdom - particularly Pegasus and Yami).  And as memories of Yugi passed into memories of Tristan, Téa realized that if her friendship with Yugi had sprung from her own conscious decision, her relationship with Tristan could only be described as being an act of God.

Second year of elementary school had begun with sorrow and disappointment.  The week before classes had seen the death of Yugi's parents in a tragic house fire.  Téa still thought of it with equal parts deep sadness and reluctant relief.  It was a horrible occurrence that two such wonderful people were taken from their loved ones, but she had been exceedingly grateful to the Powers That Be that her best friend had been spared as he had been visiting his grandfather. 

Going to school without Yugi that first week of classes had inspired a heavy weight in her heart and a slowing reflex to her movements that had her parents and teachers - accustomed to her bubbling personality - worried that she had been taken with some illness.  She had felt helpless and useless, unable to comfort her friend through deed or presence, and her despairing ineptitude had been compounded by the discovery that they would not be sharing a homeroom. 

Being a moderately vocal, somewhat high-strung, person, she had made the - admittedly stupid (but fateful) - mistake of letting her class and teacher (and probably the entire hall) know exactly what she thought of the situation.  Loudly.  Needless to say, she had found herself on the wrong side of her home- room door, hefting a bucket half-filled with water in the hall soon after.  It was then she "met" Tristan.

"Never did ask him what happened to make him act like that," she muttered to herself, as the Tristan in her mind exploded out of a classroom several doors down before running full-tilt in her general direction, eyes crying, voice shrill and choking.  No time to react to his barreling hulk, she lashed out with her hands, throwing herself off balance in the process.  They came together in an audible crash, the water of her bucket finding his hair and face before sloshing over her front.  For a few moments they had lay quiet and still, the floor wet and cold beneath Téa's skirt and bare legs, before Téa's teacher stormed into the hall and proceeded to give them both a short but pointed lecture on proper behavior at school and respect for others then assigned each of them a detention and sent them to the principal's office. 

Both refusing to look at the other, the atmosphere between them had gone from merely embarrassed to tense.  Tense had become hostile by the time they reached the principal's office due to Tristan's attempt to shake the water out of his hair (which even then defied all laws of physical science) and Téa's retaliatory slap on the arm.  It was there they were forced to introduce themselves, and there they had been persuaded to apologize to each other. 

It wasn't until a week later that the unfortunate acquaintance became a potential friendship, when Téa - unable, at that time, to swim - fell in the pool and nearly drowned.  A fortunate twist of fate had Tristan witness the fall, precipitating a spectacular rescue; and as if pulling her out of the water were not enough, he had wrapped his (wet) jacket around her before hugging her trembling body until she was calm enough to reassure the teachers and nurse she was fine. 

Téa often wondered if Tristan knew that he was still her hero, saving her in any number of little ways that probably seemed insignificant and reflexive to him.  She wondered if he knew just how thankful she was to have been in that hallway that day - even if she had been serving a punishment.  She hoped he did but was realistic enough to know he probably didn't think on the matter much.  Tristan, Téa knew, lived in the now and the present was all he really concerned himself with. 

One of the children, a boy with russet locks and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose, suddenly yelled, "TAG!!!  You're it!" before tugging on the flying braids of a pretty young girl sporting horn-rim glasses and a pale complexion.  Though she was obviously winded and not a little tired, the little girl spared the boy a shy smile which he returned with equal shyness; and Téa was reasonably sure the two were secretly crushing on each other.

Winking at the boy as his eyes met hers, Téa directed a wolfish grin at him and he blushed.  It was at that moment that Téa's inner-Joey decided to generously contribute his opinion, Best way to tell a girl you like her, kid!  His voice in her head caused a giggle to balloon in her throat and a second wave of nostalgia to open the doors of memory.

If she recalled correctly (and she was fairly certain she did), meeting Joey had been somewhat unpleasant if not outright amusing if only because of the inherent misunderstandings and prejudices they had born towards each other in their pre-friendship stages. 

It had been their fourth year of elementary school, and even at the tender age of nine, she had been possessed of a precocious but discriminating nature.  Back then, her immediate goals had been much as they were now: good grades, good manners, study dance, maintain many friends, make parents proud, etc.  By contrast, Joey had already begun to make a rather . . . unsavory but effective reputation for himself as a troublemaker and oft time bully.  Her grin turned wry as she remembered her displeasure at finding him in her home room that year before letting out a laugh aimed more towards herself than him.

She had been so foolish back then, so full of her own ideals and misconceptions, sending scathing glares to the Wheeler boy across the room without reason, offended that she was being forced to coexist with such a worthless waste of space and public education.  But he had caught her one day during a rather important math lesson, and had given her a questioning look before issuing a tentative smile which she self-righteously countered with an unattractive sneer.  Confused as he probably was, Joey had made it a daily practice to seek eye contact with her whenever the opportunity presented itself, gifting her with his goofy, toothy grin and shamelessly energetic wave thereafter.  For her part, Téa had refused to be won over by his warm brown eyes and crooked grins.  She had been determined to dislike him and dislike him she did, though if anyone would have challenged her on why she disliked him, she would have been ashamed to admit that her only reasons consisted of the usual rumor-mill gossip. 

Then, a breakthrough occurred while it was still early in the school year.  They had been in physical education class, playing softball, when out of nowhere a projectile met Téa's face at speeds . . . well, it was quite fast . . . and hard, efficiently knocking the sense (and consciousness) out of her.  Awakening in the nurse's office about an hour later, she had found Joey reading a new manga at her bedside.  I can still smell the antiseptic and feel the cotton sheets . . . He had apologized profusely in his bumbling, loud way.  The ball had been his, he said, and his aim had been off.  She had humbly, graciously accepted his apology, her gaze taking in every detail from his unruly blond locks to his too small uniform and scuff-marked shoes, before giving him the tiny smile he had been slowly coaxing out of her from that first shared glance during math class. 

They did not speak much after the incident but the exchanged glares and hopeful expressions ceased, becoming shared acknowledgments instead.  It wasn't until Joey had accepted Yugi as a friend did their pleasant acquaintance become an equal and satisfying friendship; but that was mostly her own fault. 

She could admit now that - secretly - she had feared Joey's impulsive behavior and penchant for brash violence would somehow rub off on her, and she was somewhat shy of his latent charisma and explosive energy.  Now . . . now she couldn't imagine her life without him in it, as cliché and trite as that sounded.  They teased, goaded, and insulted each other, yelled and argued at one another but when it was all or nothing, when there was a threat before them or a problem to be solved, they backed each other with every talent and resource they possessed. 

Privately,  Téa looked at Joey as the brother she had never had and the friend she believed herself lucky to have found twice.  She was constantly awed by his capacity for caring, for finding that small spark of goodness in everyone and exploiting it for the person's benefit.  His courage and loyalty were qualities to admire, and when it boiled down to pure determination in the face of adversity, you could count on Joey to rise to the occasion. 

It was a trait familiar to someone else she knew, that golden vein of conviction to set a goal and do anything possible to achieve it.  However, where Joey's ability to focus his entire being on something till he won the prize was usually termed raw determination, this "someone's" intense personality and driven actions earned the scorn of others as being ruthless, cruel, opportunistic . . . cold. 

Where Joey was a close friend, the "someone" . . . Well, she often wondered whether it was appropriate to call him a "friend" or mere "acquaintance."   It was a closely guarded secret that she preferred to think of him in the same terms she had assigned to him when first they met: first love.

Lost in her memories, Téa noticed neither the time nor the slate gray clouds accompanied by the steady rumble of low thunder.  Instead, she saw him as he had appeared that far away day in the fall of their sixth year: a sad and uncertain waif, newly transferred from Tokyo proper.  She had noticed, even then, the sharp features and aware blue eyes though his face had been more open, his eyes less cold. 

Overwhelmed by a magnetic force similar to the one that had moved her to befriend Yugi, Téa had immediately decided she would approach him though she could perceive he probably would not be receptive at first, her clues being his omnipresent frown and self-imposed solitude.  Unfortunately, she could not have been more correct in her assumptions, but he was not only unreceptive at first - he was not receptive at all. 

Téa, however, was not the type to give up easily, and so she persisted in her overtures, placed herself where she could speak to him freely in any given instance, and continually invited him to school social events, clubs, and other activities, all of which he resisted and refused with a stoic's patience.  It was nearing the end of the school year when he finally gave her something to base her hopes upon before destroying her self-confidence with an angered explosion and three words that still shook the poorly mended pieces of her heart. 

After that day, so many years ago, she had ceased trying to open him up, had ceased speaking to him altogether, not - as many would believe - out of some bitter respite but because she knew now how he felt, and she had resolved to respect his wishes no matter how much it hurt her.

It was still a mystery to her how, when, and why the simple campaign had led to a strong crush that lasted for several years and continued to echo through her soul when she saw him on the street, in class, or dueling.  Sometimes, mostly when she was restless and couldn't sleep (an occurrence lately increasing in frequency), she would wonder what would have happened if she had just pushed a little more, persisted just a little longer before closing her mind to the what-ifs and could-have-beens. 

A pained smile twisted her lips into a wry expression.  She was thankful for the one memory he had granted her (albeit unintentionally, she was sure) and grudgingly aware of the lessons she had learned through his rejection; but she was and would always be Téa Gardner, determined and true to herself, dedicated and loyal companion to her friends.  Her childish fancy was still dying a slow death, but she would continue to follow the whims of her still-wounded heart, living, knowing, and accepting that Seto Kaiba hated her.

*An hour (or so) later . . . *

The rain was a discordant, beautiful melody played against the tympanic drum of a pink and yellow umbrella.  Nature's music was made a spectacular symphony of life with the whistle of a north wind, the clashing rustle of disturbed leaves, and the soft splash of her own footsteps against waterlogged cement.

The sky was slate gray, illuminated dove by jagged streaks of pure energy.  The air crackled with the explosive bellow of unleashed thunder; and Téa, her bare legs wet and feet cold, could not suppress the subtle curve of a frown from appearing on her face.  She walked, deliberately stomping in the gathering puddles and occasionally lowering her umbrella to feel the cool drops upon her skin, to taste them on her lips. 

It was the thunder which had first alerted her to the temper of the sky after (seeming) hours sitting on the park bench, sifting and revisiting memories she rarely had inclination to recall and analyze.  But even with the warning grumbles, and the cautioning increased speed of the wind, she had resisted the urge to leave, held onto the precious moments fast abandoning her as she would abandon this place in a few months time.  She was only so thankful her mother insisted on her carrying an umbrella in her book bag at all times for it wasn't long before the roar of thunder and flash of lightening heralded the rain she now alternately suffered and enjoyed.

Running a hand against the criss-crossing wire of a nearby fence,  Téa's blank expression dissolved into a giggle before she stopped to close her umbrella and study the bright green, lengthening grass reaching out and over the sidewalk.

Water fell into her eyes and bathed the strands of her hair as she awkwardly positioned her hands upon the fence and leaned forward noting the familiar landscape, placement of cement benches, and the comforting hulk of a well-loved building.  She had wanted to visit this place, wanted to see it one last time, but she had not realized she was coming here until she had arrived.  Domino Junior High.

Ties had been created here just as prior relationships had become stronger, deeper.  It was in this building that she had defined herself and her goals for the future.  It was here that her love of dance became the dream of forever, and her love for a scared and lonely boy left her broken.

She pushed herself away from the fence and the memories created on the playground beyond it, turning away from the school and raising her face to the sky, Why do I keep thinking about it?  It's passed and done.  I'm supposed to be over it.  But there was a painful little ache between and below her collarbone, just beneath the cage protecting her physical heart and a burning ball in her throat as it suddenly became hard to breathe. 

"Excuse me.  Are you all right, Miss?" 

Téa jumped and spun around to find an old man holding his umbrella over her, wise eyes studying her in concern.  Mustering a smile she replied that she was fine to which he inquired after her tears.  It was only then that she realized that she was crying. 

Claiming her wet face and red eyes were caused by the rain, she assured him that she was just fine, that her house wasn't far off, and that she would be just peachy on her own.  He was obviously skeptical but wished her a good day before warning her to use her umbrella lest she catch cold and leaving her behind.

She watched him walk away for a few moments, the rain coming down a little harder, the drops a degree or two colder, but she couldn't leave.  Her mind wanted to remember, and her eyes wanted to trace the grounds, the host of so many wonderful experiences - no matter how tinged with lingering bitterness. 

There, beneath the canopy of a large maple towards the edge of the extensive schoolyard, he had been sitting when she, all fumbling shy and with a stuttering tremble in her voice, had made her promising discovery that - perhaps - it would be possible to get him to open up to her.  The bustling laughter and playful cries of a hundred children had faded away as his absent blue gaze found and held hers.  His stare had been direct and as she had fidgeted she noticed his face already possessed that inscrutable quality that would come to define him.

Her hand had risen between them, offering her palm as she haltingly asked him to join her (and others) in a game of tag.  Afraid to look at him, she had fixed her eyes on the proffered hand and felt elated when his fingers came up to rest in hers.

One corner of Téa's mouth quirked up in a self-mocking smirk.  She had been so shocked, the realization of that one small hope so unexpected her eyes had dared a second meeting with his.  Her heart had stopped beating when confronted with the pure beauty of his smile -  heartbreakingly uncertain as it was -  before his reluctant refusal inspired a lump of something cold and heavy to reside in her stomach.  His promise to participate at a later date had been only a slight comfort, and that weighty feeling never completely went away.  Téa suddenly wondered if it ever would.

Taking a deep breath and bending to absently ring excess water from the hem of her skirt, she began walking again, her gait slower and heavier than before, her mind lost in old broken promises and incomplete resolutions.  Tears again fell unnoticed upon cheeks already streaming with rain water as eyes reddened from bittersweet sadness looked ahead to the crosswalk only a few blocks from home.

His was a strikingly dark figure against the predominant gray of somber sky and concrete.  Sharp features and an impressive height caught the attention, but the trademark blue trench coat and shadowed blue eyes gave him a name. 

Hello Seto, the message crossed her mind as it had from the first day of his intrusion into her life, into her heart.  It was funny and ironic in a depressing sort of way, how she had spent most of her eleventh year trying to gain his attention only to be despised to then spend the next six years doing everything in her power to ignore him (though Duelist Kingdom had been a rare and intense exception) only to be constantly thrown in his path.  God must be feeling especially frisky today, she thought with a snide twitch of her nose. 

The way Téa saw it, she had two choices: turn and run or ignore him and go home where she could cry in peace.  Running would only draw attention from the other people waiting in the rain for the 'Walk' sign and the last thing she wanted was for people to take notice of her unstable and very raw emotional state.  Therefore, she ultimately decided to utilitize the tried and true method by ignoring his very existence.  He probably wouldn't notice me anyway.

However, despite her intentions, traitorous eyes found and kept him in their sights, tracing over his form appreciatively.  He stood there on the opposite side of the street, eye trained on the blaring red 'Don't Walk' signal, his gaze strangely determined and totally demanding, as if he could change it through his will alone.  The rain fell upon his uncovered head, rivulets flowing from the water-lengthened strands of hair and down the bridge of his nose, complimenting rather than detracting from the chiseled perfection of his features as the moisture fell to his clothes, the wet material clinging to the well-sculpted contours of his body.

It quite suddenly occurred to her that he was no longer the awkward, insecure boy and object of her girlhood affections but a confident, accomplished man worthy of a woman's interest.  The epiphany was at once compelling and disappointing, and Téa made a promise to herself that she would bring that self-conscious, endearing little boy out to play one last time.  Somehow, she would give Seto Kaiba his childhood back - if only for a moment.  She would see him smile once more before she left this place and life behind; and as they stood in the rain, at opposite sides of a crosswalk, Téa knew what she had to do nary seconds after the silent vow was made.

Her plan was inspired by memories of a playful but shy boy with auburn hair (more red than brown) tugging on the raven colored braids of a besotted little girl and a promise made six years ago in a noisy schoolyard under the sheltering shade of a large tree.  The game would begin here, and it would be entirely up to him if he participated this time.

Shifting from foot to foot, not minding the sloshing, uncomfortable feeling of water between her toes or the abrasive weave of her soaked socks,  Téa could barely contain her excitement as the cheerfully green 'Walk' sign flashed on and the busily impatient group of pedestrians gathered on either sidewalk started forward.  They all reminded her of a cattle drive.

Keeping the blue trench coat within her line of vision, Téa maneuvered herself so that she would brush past his right, and in one fluid motion raised and opened her ill-used umbrella before pressing the handle into his hand and yelling a jubilant, "Tag!  You're it!" before grinning widely, unabashedly at his startled expression and skipping the rest of the way home.

Refusing to look back, she skipped lightly, her heart wondrously full and spirits high. 

She would never know of the confused stare he directed toward her fleeing figure, a look happily missing the hatred she believed to live within him towards her, as an open pink and yellow umbrella hung seemingly glued to his fisted, numb hand.

To be continued . . .

Dude!  What is it with me and the YGO ideas?  Currently, I'm working on developing four in addition to all my unfinished fics and prior fic plans -_-;  So, I've decided to give at least ONE fic idea away.  If you're interested in taking it, please e-mail me at kysra@hotmail.com.

So, anyway, this idea was inspired by the song . . . "We built this City" by Starship.  It's from the '80s (I'm dating myself).  ANYWAY!  So I had this idea due to the lyrics, "Someone's always playing corporation games/Who cares they're always changing corporation names/We just want to dance here, someone stole the stage"  This is the crux of the idea.  After college . . . say like while their in their mid-20s perhaps early-30s, Téa is renting a space in a Kaiba Corp. owned building as a dance studio and rumors come down that there are plans to demolish it.  Obviously, this upsets her so she goes to see Seto but he is decidedly unsympathetic.  So she starts this quiet little war with him to save her dance studio.  I intended it (when I had the idea) to turn into a romance type thingy, but if you want to do it and don't want to make it romance, that's fine too.  Please no yaoi/yuri.  Please get in touch with me if you want to do this idea.  Thanks!